Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Drug Trade

In 1776, Adam Smith famously noted the human "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another."

But why do humans trade at all?

Another way to ask the question is, what is the survival value of trade?

To put the answer in its simplest terms, trade must deliver what humans want, and deliver it more reliably and with less effort than violence, fraud, or self-sufficiency.

Ah, you may ask, but what do humans want? For most of the history of our species, the answer was simple: food and sex. Today, in a world that offers most people food and sex in abundance, surely human desires have grown more sophisticated.

Or have they?

The Washington Post reports that the CIA is trading Viagra for information about the movement of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Traditional inducements for information like weapons and cash aren't working as well as they used to.

One 60-year-old Afghan chieftain had extensive knowledge of the region but would not cooperate with the Americans. He changed his mind after a CIA operative gave him some Viagra. The next time the operative visited, the chieftain "came up to us beaming. He said, 'You are a great man.' And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area."

The more things change...

1 comment:

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